It’s January, the time of year when we wistfully think back to our summer vacations! After I got back from Italy, Hugo and I spent a few days in Lisbon at the beginning of July. We had been planning to go for a year, but the summer before he had started a new job and couldn’t take time off (so I went to Spain instead).
Everyone kept raving about Lisbon – it was so beautiful, so cheap, so charming, so friendly, their favorite European city. We had a great time and the weather was beautiful, but I wouldn’t go back in high season. It was quite crowded, and many of the locals didn’t seem thrilled with all the tourists.
The language barrier was frustrating too – I memorized the essential travel phrases before we left, but Portuguese is not a language that comes easily to me despite its Latin roots. It wasn’t hard to navigate the city in the least, but I feel uncomfortable and apologetic when I can’t speak the local language. I do my best not to be an ugly American, but I just don’t speak all the languages. There were several instances where we were treated rudely, I suspect because we didn’t speak much Portuguese, and even though that wasn’t the overall trend, those few bad experiences stuck with me.
I would still like to go back to Portugal and visit more cities; Porto and Comporta (thanks, New York Times) are both on my list.
Today I’ll share a few highlights, some resources (scroll down to the bottom for those), and things I would do differently next time. And gratuitous photos, of course.
If I were a big-time blogger with a global influence, I don’t think I would tell you about La Campagne à Paris. If it became more popular, it would be spoiled.
But I’m rather lucky because only a select group of exclusively nice people (right?) read my blog.
So I think it’s safe.
I think I read about La Campagne à Paris on Paris Zigzag, a fantastic site for discovering little-known places in Paris (in French). It’s a tiny neighborhood in the 20th, just minutes from the Porte de Bagnolet metro stop (line 3, take exit 2).
It’s a tiny little haven of cobblestone streets and storybook houses with pretty gates and flowers in front. It was nearly deserted – I encountered a few residents, a couple wanderers like me, and a cat.
We heard the news after we got back from the fireworks. We probably would have gone to bed and slept in ignorance until the morning, but Hugo gets news alerts on his phone.
On Friday, there was an outpouring of shock and grief over the attack in Nice on social media. But at least in Lyon, there doesn’t seem to be a public space of tribute and mourning, like there was after the Paris attacks, where people leave flowers and messages. The public reaction is different this time. Maybe it’s because the possibility of more attacks has been hovering in the background, especially during the Eurocup. But that doesn’t diminish the magnitude of this tragedy.
I dug up my old photos of Nice. I haven’t been there since 2012. I thought it was only two years ago, but then I did the math. I meant to go back this summer, but time is short. (By “short” I mean “hurtling along at rogue rocket speed.”)
Anna & Matt of Hostelgeeks may be two of the nicest people ever. Not only have they created loads of free travel resources, they are generous with their personal travel recommendations and hostel discount codes, and they answer all of their messages and emails personally. For once you feel like you are intereacting with real people, not just a disembodied brand (you know what I’m talking about!)
Scroll down the Hostelgeeks homepage and you’ll find 5 star hostel reviews, city guides, travel stories, and helpful blog posts. I used their Geeky Travel Guides in every place I traveled this summer, and in Bologna I stayed at the 5 star hostel We_Bologna. Recently they featured this hostel in Granada and it looked so cool that I wanted to go to Granada just to stay there (as if I need any more reasons to go to Granada).
Matt was kind enough to send me their e-book “The Greatest Hostels of Europe” (thank you!!) and just looking through it gave me major wanderlust – the hostels are so beautiful that all of a sudden, you’re dreaming of a weekend in a new city, just so you can stay in a hostel with a rooftop pool or sleeping pods instead of bunk beds. At first, I didn’t see how much the e-book could really add to their site, since there is already so much information there. But oh, how wrong I was.
I’ll tell you right off the bat – I don’t really care for Renaissance art. I’m mostly interested in art from the last two centuries or so. The Renaissance is just not my style. I know, I know, I’m a barbarian. But the art just seemed so repetitive and boring – Madonna and child, Madonna and child, Madonna and an even fatter child, portrait of rich person, portrait of rich person, portrait of ugly rich person, fat cherubs, biblical scenes, blah blah blah.
I wasn’t even going to visit the Uffizzi, but people looked at me the way you look at someone who tells you they don’t like crême brûlée. (Like a crazy person.) So I changed my mind.
I met two badass girls in Rome named Leah and Stella. Leah said that she felt the same way about Renaissance art, but that the Uffizzi was still something to see. She gave me a couple really helpful tips which made my four hours at the museum (yes, four hours!) go smoothly.
I took the bus to Florence because it’s cheaper, and it’s only three hours from Rome which doesn’t feel long anymore. It was hot in Rome but the storm was just starting to break as I left the bus station in Florence. The men who peddle umbrellas and those colorful plastic bag ponchos seized the opportunity to pounce on anyone caught in the rain unprotected.
I don’t know what to tell you about Rome. I didn’t do the things you’re supposed to do. Shannon and I agreed we would definitely skip the Vatican because we’ve both been before, and while we might pop by and wave hi to some of the famous monuments from the outside, there was no way we were waiting in line to go in.
Hi! I’m in Italy! I’ve been eating my way through Rome, Florence, and Bologna and I’m exhausted! I haven’t spent much time in Italy in the last ten years (with the except of a January weekend getaway to Turin) and it’s been so much fun to be here. I love having a morning espresso standing up at the counter and trying to speak Italian.
Each city had its own distinct vibe – I couldn’t tell you which was my favorite. I fell in love with the Monti neighborhood in Rome but was overwhelmed by the tourist hordes elsewhere in the city. Florence had its own tourist crowd but it was easier to escape the city center, so it didn’t feel as suffocating. I loved finding little spots for cheap eats, and visiting a few major attractions (they lived up to the hype).
Bologna was the perfect antidote after a week in cities occupied by tourists – it’s a city of locals, gritty, delicious, Italian. I had the best pasta of my life and people actually gave me the chance to speak the little Italian I know. In Florence, everyone in the city center spoke English right off the bat without bothering to find out if you spoke Italian or not, which I found incredibly irritating. We’re in Italy, at least let me try to practice what Duolingo and Bellini taught me!
I’ve been keeping some notes along the way in hopes of writing a more thorough blogging account once I’m back in Lyon. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with everything I have to say, or just with life in general, and I don’t get around to blogging about everything I’d like to. Let’s see if I can catch up this summer, shall we?
I hope your summer is off to a good start, wherever you are!
I didn’t fall in love with Seville, but I also kind of did.
I mean, when I first arrived, Seville didn’t live up to the hype, and I kind of hated the cramped touristy city center, Barrio de Santa Cruz. But once I explored a bit more and got some churros in me, I felt differently.
You know those cities that you love so much that you imagine going back over and over again, or even renting an apartment and staying awhile? I didn’t feel that way about Seville. But I loved a lot of individual things about the city, which all smushed together add up to an awesome week in Seville.